Football was first introduced to the sublime city of Seville by British ex-patriots, who had come over to work mainly in the manufacturing industry towards the end of the 19th century.
Back in 1905 a brand new team was created in the South-West corner of Spain, called Sevilla FC – FC thanks to the British influence. This team spent most of their time playing against British soldiers disembarking off the ships and wanting a good old game of football. It wasn’t until 1909 that Sevilla FC spread their wings a little to play in their first official match against Recreativo de Huelva. The match was played at La Dehesa de Tablada, which, as you can see from the picture below, was just a field.
As the magic of football spread in Seville, another team were born in 1907: Sevilla Balompié, who were founded by a group of students from la Escuela Politécnica, situated on calle Cervantes. The ‘Balompié‘ as they were known played in blue shirts and white shorts. The students chose Balompié because they wanted to avoid the anglicised name of ‘football’ or fútbol, as adopted by other teams, e.g. Sevilla FC.
In 1909, Sevilla Balompié were officially recognised by the Spanish government. Balompié had great initial success winning the first ever Copa del Sevilla in 1910 and holding on to their title in 1911 and 1912, then reclaiming it in 1915. They also played in the Copa de Andalucía and were invited to take part in the Copa del Rey, however, due to financial restrictions, they couldn’t compete.
Meanwhile in 1909, things weren’t going along to smoothly at Sevilla FC. Social class conflicst marred the club and as a result, an internal split endured when Eladio García de la Borbolla, a member of the board of Sevilla FC, decided to cut his ties and create his own team. Thus, a third team in Seville were born: Betis Foot-ball club.
The initial Betis FC didn’t last too long and were dissolved in 1913, only to be resurrected in 1914 when they merged Sevilla Balompié. The two clubs became one under the reorganisation skills of José Gutiérrez, Eladio García de la Borbolla and Miguel Folgado, amongst others. One of those ‘others’ was Herbert Richard ‘Papá’ Jones, who played a vitally important part in the fusion of the two clubs.
Soon after, the ‘Sevilla’ part was abandoned and replaced with ‘Betis’, which is a name derived from the Roman word for the Guadalquivir river that flows through Seville and empties into the Atlantic besides Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Royal patronage was then sought by the club and granted by King Alfonso VIII. Finally, we had Real Betis Balompié.
The new club was popularly known as ‘el Balompié‘ until the 1930s and the fans were known as ‘los balompedistas‘. They initially played in green and black strips in a kit donated by Glasgow Celtic, then changed to the famous green and white colours of the Andalucía. Around this time, the names of ‘Betis‘ and ‘béticos‘ began to break through into popular terminology to refer to the club and it’s fans.
The Glory Years and Collapse
In the 1932/33 season, Betis joined La Liga for the first time. A couple of years later they won their one and only title in 1935, pipping Real Madrid to the post with an away win on the final day of the season at Racing Santander. Interestingly at that time, Betis were managed by Irishman and ex-Manchester United player, Patrick O’Connell.
A few years before this grand achievement, a new 18,000 capacity stadium was built in the Heliopolis district of the city to support an international trade fair. After winning the title Betis’ finances were not in a healthy position, so the local government took control of the old stadium, Campo del Patronato, and Betis’ new home became Heliopolis, in what was a generous deal from the local government.
Almost immediately after this swap deal, the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. There was lots of action and fighting in the streets of Seville between the republicans and the nationalists, which saw the club offices destroyed, the fleeing of employees and the reduction of club members to fewer than 100!
The Yo-Yo Years, Manquepierda and Copa del Rey
By the summer of 1939 the war had finished and Franco had succeeded. Betis, however, weren’t so successful and were in a dire state with barely any players, staff or money! Betis rejoined the league, although other decimated teams didn’t, and immediately got relegated to La Segunda. For the next few years Betis endured a period of yo-yo-ing from one division to the other, even dropping down to La Tercera and staying there for seven years until they gained promotion once again to La Segunda. In doing so, los verdiblancos became the first club in Spain to win the titles of the top three divisions.
Once they were back in La Segunda club president, Manuel Ruiz Rodríguez, who had done a fantastic job, handed over the reigns to Benito Villamarín – who the stadium is now named after. Just two seasons later, Betis were back in La Primera.
Betis enjoyed a relative period of stability and competed successfully in La Primera for eight years, even making it into Europe, before being relegated once again in 1966. Cue, another period of intense yo-yo-ing.
Despite this, success wasn’t too far away and Betis won the Copa del Rey in 1977. They beat Athletic Bilbao in the final on penalties after a 2-2 draw, played in front of a packed Vicente Calderón stadium.
A year later? Yes, they were back in La Segunda – they must have been missing the place. It wasn’t too long before they were back in La Primera, where they went on their longest ever top flight run of a decade before the customary relegation in 1989. Cue a little bit more yo-yo-ing.
Present Day Betis
The 1990s were eventful for Betis, as everything always seems to be with the club. Finances were between a rock and a hard place and Betis were teetering on the brink of Segunda B. However, they were temporarily rescued by one Manuel Ruiz de Lopera. For the middle period of the 90s, things looked rosy at los verdiblancos under the management of Lorenzo Serra Ferrer. He managed the team to a 3rd place and then 4th place La Liga finish in the 94/95 and 96/97 seasons, respectively. In 1997 they also made it to the Copa del Rey final, losing to Barcelona 3-2 in extra-time thanks to a 115th minute Luis Figo strike.
In 2000, the inevitable happened again after the departure of Serra Ferrer and Betis graced La Segunda with their presence alongside eternal rivals, Sevilla. Both quickly jumped back up. Whilst all this was happening Lopera was trying to rebuild the stadium and rename it after himself – how very humble. Lopera did splash the cash in 1998 completing a world-record signing of Denilson from Santos for £21.5 million. However, he was also borrowing extremely heavily to fund all of this.
Back in La Liga and with Serra Ferrer back at the helm, Betis won the Copa del Rey for the second time in 2005 beating Osasuna 2-1 in extra time, again at the Vicente Calderón. The following season, Betis joined Europe’s big boys, becoming the first ever Andalucíans to play in the Champions League. They were in a tough group with defending champions Liverpool, Chelsea and Anderlecht. They unfortunately didn’t make it out of the group stage, but they did beat Chelsea in Seville.
It was around this time that things started to unravel for Betis in a fairly public and disastrous way. Lopera’s unsustainable spending meant that everything was coming to a head; debt was rising and players were being sold. The club were relegated in 2009 after a few seasons of scraping by.
In July 2009, 65,000 impassioned Béticos took to the streets of Seville to demand a change of board and the resignation of Lopera, as he was being investigated for corporate fraud (a saga which is still on-going!). Lopera duly jumped ship and tried to sell his shares to an investment group headed up by his pal and fellow conman, Luis Oliver. Thankfully, the courts intervened and put Rafael Gordillo in charge; a former player and popular Bético. The stadium’s name was changed back to el Estadio Benito Villamarín in honour of the late president.
So, why is Lopera so loathed after he oversaw a relative successful period at Betis?
In 2006 he was found guilty of ‘financial irregularities’ by Spain’s Inland Revenue between 1996 and 1997. From his tenure at Betis, he is alleged to have taken €36 million from the club – roughly half the amount of debt he left the club in. He basically contracted out Betis’ employees and services to his own personal companies and properties, for a vastly inflated fee. See the bottom of the page for more on the scoundrel Lopera.
Betis stayed for two years in La Segunda before they gained ascension once more under Pepe Mel – a former Betis player and Madrileño. Under extreme financial constraints, Pepe Mel performed miracles and got Betis into the Europa League after a couple of seasons in La Liga. He was sacked in December 2013 after a poor first half of the season, much to the dismay of most Béticos. Sacking Mel didn’t work and Betis were relegated in 2014. Betis had three different managers inside a year before they turned to the services of Don Pepe Mel once again (after he didn’t have such a great time at West Bromwich Albion). Since Mel took over for his second stint, Betis have been motoring along in the La Segunda and are top of the table with a few games of the season to play to assure their return to La Liga.
Who knows what lies in store next for Real Betis. Their history is turbulent, colourful and sprinkled with success. A dull moment there rarely is not. Here’s to the future of this great club. Viva el Betis!
It is over five years since the huge 15-J protest in Seville and it seems that not much has been resolved. Lopera hasn’t said much of interest to judge Mercedes Alaya, apart from that he isn’t guilty. In February 2015, Alaya finished her seven year investigation into Lopera. She found that Lopera damaged the club by the tune of €25 million and that it was a preconceived plan to decapitalise the club. She also doubted whether Lopera is actually the owner of the shares (and owner of Betis) due to the complex flow of money between all the companies involved. The ‘misappropriation’ of shares and fraud charges are to be continued. The administrators, as appointed by Alaya in 2010, are to continue in control of Betis for now. The whole investigation and case has also been embroiled with others scandals and happenings to complicate the matter further, which I won’t go into now.
Lopera also faces a number of private prosecutions from groups associated with Betis. One of these is that he acquired his 31% of Betis shares under the organisation called Farusa with illegal money – Betis’ own money! Lopera claims he has no shares or relationship at all with Farusa. One of the prosecuting lawyers says that Lopera owns 95% of a company that owns the majority of shares in Farusa. It’s all highly complicated stuff and the sniveling, sneaky, conniving Lopera is trying to wriggle his way out. Ex Betis president, José León, says the cheques continued to come from Farusa, he doesn’t know where from, but without them Betis would have dissolved.
It is all a complete and utter mess, but soon we hope that justice will prevail and this whole thing can be confined to the history books so the club can move forward.